The Go-To Guide for Different Types of Steel

Steel is one of the most manufactured and commercially available materials in the US. It is found in everything from home appliances to industrial drilling tools. Because of all the different uses for steel, several different varieties are better suited for specific applications. We’ve compiled this handy go-to guide for all the different types of steel, so keep reading to know more.

What is Steel?

Steel is an iron alloy – a mix of iron and another metal. This mixing changes the properties of the resulting alloy, making a metal that is stronger and more fracture resistant than iron alone.  Different metals will create a different type of steel, so choosing the right kind of steel is crucial in ensuring the project goes according to plan. Here are the main types of steel alloys.

Carbon Steel

Carbon steel comes in three main varieties that relate to how much carbon is present in the alloy. In general, carbon steel must contain no more than 2% carbon in its makeup. It also does not have any other standard steel alloy metals like cobalt, tungsten, molybdenum, or titanium. The three carbon steel classifications are:

  • Low Carbon. Also called mild carbon or plain carbon steel, this alloy will have up to .3% carbon in its makeup. It is inexpensive and easy to produce and is the most commonly used type of steel, found in ipes, domestic appliances, wires, medical equipment, car parts, etc.
  • Medium Carbon. This alloy contains between .31% and .60% carbon along with .31%-1.60% magnesium. It is extremely strong but is also challenging to weld and shape. It can e found in cranks, gears, railway tracks, and more.
  • High Carbon. The final classification contains between .61% and 1.50% carbon and up to .90% magnesium. It is the hardest steel and is often used in railways, bars, plates, etc.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is another commonly used metal. The alloy must contain at least 10.5% chromium. Chromium is responsible for the “stainless” part of the metal since it protects the steel from oxidation. That means you won’t see rust on stainless steel items like knives, medical equipment, or cooking pans. The three main types of stainless steel are:

  • Austenitic Alloy. This stainless steel alloy is the most common on the metal market. It has that classic sheen, oxidation resistance, and is non-magnetic.
  • Ferritic Alloy. Ferritic stainless steel is similar to Austenitic, but it is magnetic. Ferritic alloys have a slightly lower nickel content, so they are cheaper to produce.
  • Martensitic Alloy. This is the most uncommon type of stainless steel on the market. It is much stronger than the other alloys, but they do tend to rust more.

Tooling Steels

Tooling steels are those alloys needed for generally heavy-duty tool work, like drilling. They typically contain significant amounts of tungsten, cobalt, vanadium, and molybdenum, resulting in extra-strong and heat-resistant steel.

Alloy Steels

Alloy steels take carbon steel as a base metal and then combine it with a mixture of alloying elements –metals that are added to change the characteristics of the final product. Chromium, cobalt, tungsten, vanadium, molybdenum, and nickel are the most common elements to add. Different amounts of different elements will result in steels that can be strong, durable, flexible, temperature resistant, and rustproof.

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